One of the things that’s always driven me crazy about baseball in manga – even in series I love, like Major – is this notion that the only manly thing to do is fight the opponent by throwing fastballs down the middle. Well, unless you’re a pure freak like Honda Goro (or Furuya Satoru, seemingly) fastballs down the middle generally meet the same fate – they get hit a very long way. It’s not as though the upperclassmen like Tanba and Kawakami were throwing nothing but fastballs to the kiddos – they mystified them with breaking pitches, and these were guys who, if anybody, would have their pride dictate they turn on the heat and win a straight-up battle against first-years.
That said, this is a pretty common fixture of baseball manga and apart from that, Diamond no Ace keeps things more or less realistic. I like the fact that while Sawamura is clearly the star here, this story remains very much about the team – and that’s been set up as a very significant difference between he and his rival, Furuya. While Furuya is ready to leave the dugout and do his own thing, his own goals having been met, Eijun is fighting to lift the spirits of a bunch of pretty broken freshmen weary of being embarrassed by their elders. This is what makes Eijun an interesting main character for me – while he’s clearly a rare talent, his most notable feature is his dedication to the idea of the team. It’s fitting that what caught Takashima-san’s eye initially wasn’t Eijun’s pitching, but his leadership.
Entering the fray at this point is Kominato Hariuchi, the ginger second-basemen who briefly appeared last week. Just why Kataoka-sensei ignored him for the early innings isn’t clear, but he’s obviously not cowed and beaten like most of his classmates. He’s unusual right off the bat – literally, as he steps up to the plate with a wooden bat after inserting himself into the game as a pinch-hitter. After his attempt to con the opposition into thinking he’s passing signs to Eijun fails (deception simply isn’t part of Eijun’s arsenal) Kominato takes the deception into his own hands – again literally, as he initially chokes up on the bat to draw an outside pitch and then changes his grip and smokes a liner into the right-field corner.
There isn’t a lot of science or subtlety to what Eijun does here, or generally – he manages to score by sheer hustle and determination (and a twisting slide to avoid the tag from the catcher) and he manages to light a fire under his teammates by sheer persistence. In effect he makes it more embarrassing for them to quit than to keep going, which is what they decide to do after Kataoka cleverly gives them the choice. That’s fortunate for Eijun as it finally allows him to stand on the mound. It’s tempting to say that this is what Kataoka had in mind all along, but that may in fact be giving him too much credit – if the game had ended there Eijun would have lost presumably his only chance to show the coach he could be useful to the varsity team as a first-year.
As for Eijun’s pitching, that’s where the conceit I mentioned in the first paragraph kicks in. But then, that’s Eijun – bear in mind this is a kid who’s never gotten any training from a knowledgeable coach and doesn’t even watch baseball himself. He’s completely self-taught and presumably knows only one pitch – his fastball, a “straight-o” which isn’t straight at all – and one way to pitch, aim for the middle of the plate and throw as hard as you can. And I’m guessing he showed the coach enough, because the first three guys couldn’t square him up and it’s only after Asuka (the vow-of-silence roommate) chokes up on the bat and moves to the front of the batter’s box (a common tactic against pitchers who rely on late movement) that he’s able to knock one out – and then only because of his brute strength, the pitch having gotten in on his hands and jammed him considerably. That’s a home-run that could never happen with a wood bat, but it’s also one that would never happen if Eijun had the experience to locate his pitches instead of heaving and hoping.
The truth is of course that this is only the beginning of the journey for Eijun, because he’s never had the chance to see what he could do if he played the game under the supervision of a real coach. All he has at the moment is instincts and dogged persistence, as evidenced by both the home-run and his reaction after he was hit. Next week brings yet another new face to the cast (it’s yet another seiyuu way too old to be playing a high-schooler, but I confess I can’t wait to hear him), and perhaps with it the first chance for Eijun to prove he can actually learn and improve.